The United States needs to return to a unified national mission, based on the truly Promethean idea of mankind, scientific and technological progress, and creativity. The United States has not seen a return mission to the surface of the Moon in over fifty years, since the landing of the Apollo 17 mission in 1972. When President Trump entered the White House, he set forth the bold vision of the Artemis program, calling for sending the first woman and next man to the Moon for the first time in over 50 years. The Artemis program brought in commercial companies and international partners to work with NASA in collaboration towards building out America's permanent Lunar presence. Through resource utilization on the Moon, Artemis will build a platform for future settlements on the Moon and eventually Mars. As with all manned space missions, the direct benefits to all of humanity will be enormous–up to and including producing fusion power from the Moon’s Helium-3.
President Trump was not the first President to put forth a program to return America to the Moon, but he was the first in a very long time to understand that it was going to take the best of our skill and talent. He understood that we had to have this grand economic driver in place to build our national industry and make America a manufacturing superpower again.
Since the removal of President Trump from office, the program has not been the same. The Biden/Harris administration has set back the Artemis program tremendously. But as much as I would love to put all the blame on the senile Avatar Joe BIden, and his insane focus on climate change and gender identity politics, Congressional leaders also share a lot of the blame. Many in Congress are prioritizing insane endless wars, and open borders to illegals over building up our manufacturing and industry. Democrats have openly opposed and perverted the Artemis Program simply to prevent Trump from “having a win.” And both parties look for monetary shortcuts when it comes to funding our space program, even though it is critical to the economic and scientific progress of our nation. Such shortsightedness inevitably leads to economic disaster, and technical problems with the program itself.
Not only this, but people are always saying whatever NASA can't do, leave it to the private sector. I'm all for bringing in the private sector, but companies are failing because they are depending on funding from Special Purpose Acquisition Companies (SPACs) in a collapsing and rigged system that prioritizes war and short term speculative investments, not long term technological growth. Many of the companies awarded funding under NASA’s Commercial Lunar Service Program (CLPS), such as Intuitive Machines, are dependent upon capital brought in by SPACs, but just aren’t securing the funding needed.
So what if NASA throws a few million dollars in funding at these companies? This seed money comes with high demands and strict timelines to meet NASA’s scientific and launch requirements. But with the economy in such terrible shape under Bidenomics, the proverbial seed is planted in infertile soil, so it fails to grow. This puts massive strain not just on the commercial company launching the mission, but the entire space program. Congress then looks at failures caused by technical mishaps or missed timelines and wrongly concludes the answer is even less funding for space. That just does not and will not work. Adequate funding of human spaceflight requires guaranteed and robust investment over years, as during the height of the Apollo program.
Look at the setbacks we have seen getting the Artemis program off the ground with the ongoing cuts in funding and schedule changes on the SLS rocket, and Orion spacecraft. Remember, the development of the SLS rocket started in 2011 as a replacement for the Space Shuttle program. After 11 years, it was finally time to launch in November 2022 with the uncrewed Artemis I mission, after being delayed several times due to a hydrogen leak. Since then, NASA has repeatedly announced further delays in the Artemis program. The Artemis Crew II mission scheduled to fly this year is being pushed back to 2025 due to heat shield concerns and hardware readiness. The Artemis III human landing mission, already pushed back several years from Trump’s original schedule of 2024, will not launch earlier than September 2026, if not later.
Under President Trump’s leadership, in 2018 NASA awarded funding to nine companies through its Commercial Lunar Service Program (CLPS), to deliver science and technology to the lunar surface ahead of NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion Artemis mission landings. This past week, the first company awarded under the CLPS program, Astrobotic, launched its first NASA payload to the Moon aboard its Peregrine Lander. Last week Peregrine launched atop the new ULA Vulcan Centaur rocket. This was a major breakthrough in spaceflight for the United Launch Alliance and the premier launch of its Vulcan rocket. The booster that carried the Astrobotic Peregrine Lunar lander was powered by a pair of Blue Origin BE-4 engines and two Northrop Grumman Graphite Epoxy Motor 63 XL solid rocket boosters. The Vulcan has replaced the Atlas V. Atlas will continue to fly for its remaining seventeen launches that have already been sold. Most who watched the launch of Peregrine Mission One aboard the 200-foot-tall rocket, carrying some five NASA payloads and fifteen additional payloads flying for a number of commercial customers, research organizations, and other space agencies, were absolutely amazed by the nearly picture perfect launch.
Not more than 24 hours after the mission was on its way to the Lunar surface, an update was issued that the Peregrine Lunar Lander was suffering an anomaly. According to Astrobotic, a "failure within the propulsion system was causing a critical loss of propellant," and it did not look like the mission would go forward as planned. Since then, further updates have come out indicating that the spacecraft's leak was slowing and that there was still enough propellant left to prepare the payloads onboard to be deployed. Unfortunately the latest update from the Astrobotics team has finally confirmed that the Peregrine Mission will not be making a soft landing on the Moon, afterall, but will be colliding with the Earth.
We will have to keep following this mission to find out what the final conclusion will be. In the meantime, the next CLPS mission, Intuitive Machine’s NOVA C, is scheduled to launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket next month and make a landing on the Lunar South Pole not long after. This mission has also been rescheduled a number of times. The rescheduling is not really the problem. The real concern is how the entire program is being conceived. Is Artemis a unified national mission or an array of piecemeal projects? Only the unified mission approach will work. Next week on January 17th, Congress is holding a Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee Hearing entitled “Returning to the Moon: Keeping Artemis On Track.” This is the very question at hand.
In considering the collapse of our nation’s productive economy, the loss of manufacturing, and the impact of outsourcing, look at the impact that it has had on Boeing, our nation’s number one aerospace company, and leader, until recently. I’m sure everyone saw the horror story about the door plug on the Boeing Max 9 aircraft blowing off. This is not the first time Boeing has had problems. An article written in The Wall Street Journal details what has happened as a result of Boeing outsourcing its production and components to other companies within the United States and other countries. The article highlights a white paper written in 2001 by a Boeing aerospace engineer warning others in the company about subcontracting and outsourcing and the adverse impact it would have. Hundreds of Boeing 737s have been grounded due to the change in production policies and outsourcing. This has resulted in major issues with their aircraft models, including unsafe fuselages, misdrilled holes, loose rudder bolts, and the recent door plug blowout.
Now if that is happening with Boeing aircraft, what do we need to be concerned about with Boeing’s involvement in rocket production? Boeing is the prime contractor for the design, development, test, and production of the Space Launch System, (SLS) rocket core stage, and upper stage. Boeing is currently building the core stage for Artemis II, III and IV. Maybe this is another reason NASA is further postponing Artemis launches.
People have heard the story multiple times of how under the Apollo program for every dollar that went into the space program we saw 14 dollars in return. This was not money being launched into space and returning fourteen-fold to earth; the returns we were generating were coming from the spinoffs from the space program that were applied everywhere throughout our economy. It is very hard to find an industrial sector not improved by human space exploration. Since before the 1969 Moon landing, the United States has pushed investment in our space program to near the bottom of the national budget. Despite its centrality to human progress, Congress has only allocated about $25 billion dollars on the space program, about 0.5% of the total budget. Well over 4 times this amount has been wasted pretending to defend democracy in Ukraine. What do we have to show for that? New medicines? New technologies? New understanding of physics? Of course, none of the above.